Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE JAILOR’S CONVERSION”

Acts 16.19-34

We once more consider the circumstances associated with the conversion of the Philippian jailor. As we do so, notice an eternal principle that is seen in the lives of the Apostle Paul and his companion and colleague Silas. Specifically, notice that God used their godly and courageous response to suffering to bring others to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 16.19-21, we read of the capture of Paul and Silas. Notice the crime they committed:

19     And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers,

20     And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city,

21     And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.

No real crime was committed when the demon was cast out of the damsel, Acts 16.16-18. In actuality, Paul was used by God to work a great and liberating miracle in that young girl’s life, freeing her from demonic enslavement. So, it was a good deed that was done that resulted in their arrest and incarceration, instead of a violation of any law. However, since the owners of the slave girl could no longer make any money off her, they sought vengeance. The way they did it was by stirring up racial prejudice toward Paul and Silas by pointing out that “they” are Jews and “we” are Romans. Of course, the prejudiced mob was willing to go along with the deal, especially since Philippi was a Roman colony city and very proud of their Roman affiliation. Pretty smart of the rabble-rousers, when you think about it. It had not been too long before this that Jewish people had been expelled from Rome, so the colony city of Philippi, being a little copycat city image of Rome, would feel the same way about Jewish people that the capital city of Rome did. Next, comes the command to beat them, verse 22: “And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.” Merciless. Illegal. However, the judge was influenced by the mob. Keep in mind that this was no Jewish beating of 39 stripes. Romans would beat on you until the striker got tired, or until the prisoner died, or until the officer in charge decided that he had had enough. They were beaten without mercy for serving the Lord. After the command to beat them comes the charge to jail them, verse 23: “And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely.” This is probably where their first contact with the Philippian jailor took place. It was also at this point that the jailor, no doubt a Roman soldier, would find out what they are charged with and would find out that they are Jewish. The only problem is, though he was charged with being Jewish, Silas was actually a Gentile. Unbeknownst to anyone, Paul is a Roman citizen, and what has happened in the way he has been treated is very much a violation of Roman law. Another point about the Roman jailor that explains his actions later. Roman jailors were responsible for their prisoners. Should a prisoner ever escape, the jailor would fulfill his punishment, even if it was the death sentence.

Once under the authority of the jailor, we see their confinement in the inner prison, or the dungeon, verse 24: “Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.” Here we see what the jailor was really like. Under Roman law, how he tended to his prisoners was his business, so long as they did not escape. So, how did he treat two men who had been beaten to a bloody pulp for no reason? First, he put them in the inner prison, which was the worst of three parts that normally made up a Roman prison. There was no real reason for putting them there. After all, they had lost a lot of blood. They were in shock. How could they even walk, much less escape? Nevertheless, the jailor placed them in the portion of the prison that was particularly cold, damp, dark, and filled with the nauseating stench of human waste and decaying flesh. Why did he place them there? There could have been a number of reasons, beside the likelihood that he was just sadistic. First, so the new prisoners would not trouble him. Second, maybe he would be lucky, he figured, and they would be dead from infection or die of pneumonia down in that cold cell in a day or two. Note that he also placed their feet in stocks. Stocks that were usually so wide that cramps would come on within minutes of being locked in. Therefore, unless numbed by shock, these two would be in such pain from the wounds in their backs and the cramps in their legs that they could not even think about escape. The jailor seems like a real humanitarian at this point, does he not? In verses 25-31, Luke records the events that show us the Christian character of Paul and Silas and how they responded to such unjust persecution and torture. In response to imprisonment, they sang hymns and prayed to God, verse 25: “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.”

How does this show Christian character? Well, they could have griped and complained at having to suffer for doing no wrong, and no one would have said they did not deserve to gripe and complain. However, if they had acted that way, they would have acted just like every other unsaved prisoner who had ever been in that prison. Did the other prisoners take note? Look at the last phrase of verse 25 again: “And the prisoners heard them.” In Greek, this means that the prisoners listened attentively to them.[1] The other prisoners hung on every word those two men said in that dungeon. Their Christian character is also seen in their response to the earthquake:

26     And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.

27     And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.

28     But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.

29     Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas.

When the earthquake hit, and the doors and shackles fell off the prisoners, Paul and Silas could have escaped, because the prison guards almost certainly ran for their lives when the earthquake started. They did not want to be caught inside that prison with those prisoners and be killed either by the quake or by the men they had brutalized. Therefore, when the jailor came to the entrance of the prison and saw all the doors open, he immediately concluded all the prisoners had escaped, so he took steps to kill himself. Is that not the way of lost men so commonly these days? Like King Saul, and Judas Iscariot, and the jailor, men who do not take into account the endless punishment of the damned that begins when they suffer the pangs of death see suicide as an option. Suicide is the option taken by those who have no hope. However, all the prisoners did not escape. In fact, none of the prisoners escaped. Why not? Paul and Silas apparently talked them out of it. So, when Paul saw the jailor standing in the doorway getting ready to kill himself, he cried out, “Do thyself no harm; for we are all here.” If that is not a mark of Christian character, I do not know what is.

How many prisoners do you think would have stayed in that prison under ordinary circumstances? How many prisoners in the downtown central jail here in Los Angeles will walk right out when the deputies mistakenly release them? Christian character was shown in not attempting escape. Christian character was shown in preventing the jailor from committing suicide. Paul and Silas’ display of Christian character had already opened the door to the salvation of the prisoners, and it was now used by God to open the door of salvation to the jailor, as well. When punished, these men did not complain. When imprisoned, they were cheerful. When placed in the dungeon and foot stocks, they cooperated. Whilst sitting in that cold cell, they sang songs. When given opportunity to escape, they remained in prison. All of these things, no doubt, confused the jailor. Maybe the girl was right. He had certainly heard comments from others about what the demon-possessed damsel was supposed to have said about them. Maybe they were the servants of the most high God. Maybe they did show the way of salvation. As such thoughts as these ran through his mind, he called for a light and fell down before Paul and Silas. Their Christian character during times of stress was having an effect on this cruel and brutal man. Finally, the Christian character of Paul and Silas is seen in their reply to the jailor’s questions, Acts 16.30-31:

30     And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

31     And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Remember what kind of reactions a person would normally have if someone abused him and then all of a sudden the tables were turned. Would most people lash out in revenge? Or would they do what Paul and Silas did? Would they seek to restore their prideful ego? Or would they do what Paul and Silas did? The jailor took them outside the prison and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” To this point, I doubt that the jailor had really ever been exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. All he had heard was that these men showed the way of salvation, whatever that was. As afraid and confused as he was at that point, he was willing to listen to anything they had to say. After all, they had pulled him back from the edge of death. To his very simple question, they gave a very simple answer. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” These men were obviously more concerned for the souls of men than they were for themselves. Their Christian character bore witness to that fact. In their response to being imprisoned, in their reaction to the earthquake, and in their reply to the jailor’s question. God would use these men to guide the jailor to Christ.

The circumstances surrounding the conversion of the jailor and his family are seen in verses 32-34. First, we see the reception of the Word: “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.” That the jailor had not previously known the gospel message is clear from the fact that he took the two missionaries home and there they presented the plan of salvation to him and his entire family. Was the jailor eventually saved? You had better believe he was. You can tell by his renovated life, verses 33-34:

33     And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.

34     And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

You know that he was saved because he washed their stripes. That shows repentance and a love for the brethren. Traits of a Christian. You can also tell that he was saved because Paul baptized him. Paul would not have baptized him if he had not been convinced the man was genuinely saved. The proper order is clear in Matthew 28.19-20, and is never reversed in the Bible. Salvation. Baptism. Teaching the Word of God. Finally, you can tell he was saved because he actually has joy his heart. It is a trait of a new believer to have joy in his heart, joy that comes from the forgiveness of sins, joy that comes from being given the gift of eternal life, joy that comes from being a new creature in Christ Jesus, and joy that is produced by the indwelling Spirit of God. Consider this: Nothing would have happened had Paul and Silas not served God, first, and then continued to serve God in the midst of suffering, second. Considering how cruel and tough that jailor must have been, it is likely that the only thing that could possibly have touched his heart was to see how those men responded to their hopeless situation in comparison to how he responded in what he thought was his hopeless situation. They sang praises to God and prayed to Him. The jailor, on the other hand, was prepared to commit suicide. What a difference. Is your life different like that, Christian? How does God work in your life amidst suffering to bring lost souls to Christ? Of course, you have to actually serve God in the midst of suffering for God to work in this way in your life.

Many years ago, there was a man who had a neat and tidy personal world. He was married to a good woman. He had good children. He had served his country and was rewarded with a good job that met all his earthly needs. However, something happened one day that brought his whole world crashing down. All that he had worked for, all his hopes and aspirations went up in smoke in the space of a few minutes. Life, as he had known it, was over. What was it that caused this man, who had negotiated life so well up to this point (he thought), who was so capable of getting by (he thought), who had done such a good job of preparing for the future (he thought), to fall down before Paul and Silas and take them out of their dungeon prison and say, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Of course, there must be someone who seems to have the answer to the question, else it not be asked. Of course, there must be some idea or concept that salvation is possible, else the question will not be asked. However, taking these things as given, what causes a man to ask the question, “What must I do to be saved?”

Understand, as Paul and Silas understood from their years of ministry, that there are many, many people who will say the words, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” However, I speak not of words, only, this evening. I speak of the mind, the heart, and the soul. How can we describe a man, a man known for his toughness, a man known for his hardness, a man known for his cruel insensitivity, who has now come to the point where he asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Before you will ever seriously ask this question, the Holy Spirit of God must do something to you. To be sure, He must deal with you about the sufficiency of my wonderful Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is able to deliver thee. However, before the Holy Spirit of God deals with you about the Savior, He must first deal with you about yourself. Let me describe for you the man, the woman, the child, who honestly and genuinely asks the question, “What must I do to be saved?” Not that you have to ask this question in order to be saved, but that you must have some ground level realization, as the Philippian jailor did, of who and what you are who needs to be saved.

Four descriptions.

First, THE CONDUCT OF YOUR LIFE IS DESCRIBED

Perhaps your estimation of your life is quite high. You value yourself. You appraise yourself highly. However, let us for a moment take stock of the actual conduct of your life. What has your contribution turned out to be, in actuality? As a child of your parents, as a spouse to your mate, as a parent to your child, as a servant to your Creator, what has your contribution actually been? Listen to God’s Word, my friend, before you draw conclusions about the conduct of your life. Romans 3.12 draws this conclusion about the conduct of your life: “They are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Consider that. The sum total of everyone’s conduct is zero, no profit as far as God is concerned, and your individual contribution to the sum total of everyone’s input is also zero.

Do you protest? Do you sputter? Do you insist that the conduct of your life amounts to something, after all? In what way? Who have you helped find God through faith in Christ? What have you done that amounts to anything apart from God’s good grace? The Philippian reached a point in time when he realized that his life meant nothing, really. He made no contribution. He just marked time. He just filled space. He just was. Beyond that, beside that, the conduct of his life amounted to nothing positive, nothing good, only evil and wickedness and selfishness. Until you come to that appraisal of your life you will never ask, and mean, “What must I do to be saved?”

Next, THE COMPARTMENTS OF YOUR MIND DESCRIBED

The jailor took those poor, helpless, servants of the living God, and put them into prison. He did not have to do that. No article of Roman law required that they be incarcerated, only that they be available to appear before their judge at the appointed time. However, this man was not satisfied with that. He had to imprison them. More than that, he had to put them into the dungeon in stocks, the deepest part of the prison.

You do that, you know. You do not physically incarcerate anyone. However, you do take disturbing truths and bury them in the deep recesses of your mind, where they will cause you no trouble. Why do you think God turns people over to a reprobate mind, Romans 1.28? God turns people over to a reprobate mind because they take the truth and they bury it as squirrels bury nuts. Out of sight, out of mind? Not really. You fool yourself into thinking anything that is not conscious is anything you are nor responsible for. Not true. You glorify God not as God. Professing yourself wise, you have become foolish in your refusal to fear and to worship and to serve God. You pretend that everything is okay. You pretend that everything is well between you and God, but it is not, and you know it is not. Who do you think you are kidding? Do you not understand God knows who are His? Do you not think God knows the thoughts of your mind? Do you not think the Omniscient One has your thoughts ever before Him? You pretend like the little child who covers his own eyes so you cannot see him.

A great many people utter the words, “What must I do to be saved?” However, those who really mean what they say are those who have come to realize the futility of self-deception. There is a difference between what you think is so and what is so. Hiding the truth in the recesses of your mind, as that jailor hid those men in the dark recesses of that dank prison, does not make the truth suddenly become untrue. It does not alter or change reality, only your perception of reality. How foolish is the man who thinks that things must be the way he wants them to be, who thinks things are the way he chooses them to be. Like the jailor who pretended he would not have to deal with those men if he could hide them deep enough in the prison dungeon, you think that you can somehow escape confronting the truth that there is a holy God you have offended by your sin, and no amount of pretense will make Him go away. No. Only when you face the fact that you, a wicked sinner, will someday have to face a holy God will you honestly ask the question, “What must I do to be saved?”

Third, THE CONCERNS OF YOUR HEART DESCRIBED

At this point, we are provided the motive for hiding the truth in the compartments of your mind. Why did the jailor try to bury Paul and Silas in the depths of the prison? Because he was hard and cold and callused, but also because he had successfully fooled himself into thinking his scheme would work. The same is true with you, and it is your heart that provides the means to accomplish this trick of self-deception. You see, according to Jeremiah 17.9, your heart is deceitful above all things. That is, nothing is more capable of lying and leading astray than your own heart. Accompanying that terrible skill is even more horrible motivation. You see, your heart is also desperately wicked.

I remember the woman who told me repeatedly that she was confident of heaven because she was good. When pressed, she agreed that the Bible said she was not good, but the Bible was wrong. She was good. Do you see the wicked, soul damning, self-deception? Your self-deception is equally damning, only more subtle. Not until the Holy Spirit does a work of conviction in your life will you really believe yourself to be so wicked of heart that you need to be saved by someone other than yourself.

Finally, THE CONDEMNATION OF YOUR SOUL DESCRIBED

The Philippian jailor was but a sword thrust away from death. He had stared death in the face and had been called away from the edge by a shout, “Do thyself no harm; for we are all here.” What amazing men they were, those servants of the most high God. How differently they dealt with apparent hopelessness than he did. They were full of life, while he contemplated only death. They faced a formidable future with only courage, while he faced the same future with only cowardice. What accounted for the difference? The standing of their souls. Paul and Silas were under no condemnation. The jailor stood condemned. Perhaps he did not comprehend fully. Perhaps he could not have articulated what he knew in his guts to be true, could not have explained it, even to a child. However, from what little he had seen and heard, what he concluded from observation, was that those men’s souls were not condemned, while his soul was condemned.

Listen carefully. The soul that sinneth, it shall surely die. The wages of sin is death. The wrath of God abides on you. Make no mistake about it, before you can ever be saved, before you will ever genuinely and truly ask how to be saved, you have to know that you are lost, that you are condemned in the sight of God. For how long have you been condemned? Since when have you been condemned? Since you have existed, John 3.18: “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

The theological word for what I have preached about this evening is the word “depraved.” You are utterly depraved. You are hopelessly depraved. Depraved means that you are incapable of saving yourself and that there is nothing in you or about you that would make you savable, apart from the grace of God. That is why you need to be saved.

When you get real, when you are made to see the truth about yourself by the Holy Spirit, the conduct of your life, the compartments of your mind, the concerns of your heart, the condemnation of your soul . . . then you will ask, “What must I do to be saved?” and you will be answered.



[1] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 304.



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